REDONDO BEACH (CBS) — California law requires photo-developing stores to contact police if they see suspected child porn or abuse and it was such a tip that helped police crack the case of a local teacher arrested for photos allegedly showing students bound and gagged.
“They were very strange in nature. The photographs depicted school-aged children, some have blindfolds on, some have duct tape over their mouths and in one of the photographs there is like a cockroach on one of the student’s faces,” said Redondo Police Sergeant Shawn Freeman.
They are disturbing 4 x 8 photos that Sgt. Freeman said he would always remember.
“It’s school-aged children in these photographs and these children are wearing blindfolds or they’re wearing duct tape. In some of the photographs the male suspect has his arms around these students and he’s smiling and they’re smiling and it just didn’t seem appropriate at all for being in a classroom,” Freeman said.
He said it was more than a year ago when a photo-processing employee at a local drug store contacted authorities about 48 unusual and suspicious prints.
“It started the ball rolling in the investigation. Without that phone call, this might never have come to the light of day or it might still be continuing,” said Freeman, who first reviewed the initial report after his officer responded to that call.
“If it wasn’t for an employee contacting the Redondo Beach Police Department and turning these photographs over to us, the sheriff’s department would not have had the opportunity to go out and arrest this teacher and basically get him out of the classrooms, so he’s not harming any more kids,” Freeman said.
The photo order by LAUSD teacher Mark Berndt was a roll of film developed back in 2010, according to Freeman.
We learned that the photo developer is a key witness in the investigation and that detectives are protecting his identity.
Sources told us that a CVS One-Hour Photo lab in Redondo Beach is where Berndt had the pictures developed.
Tuesday night we found a flyer inside a CVS in Torrance, located a mile from Berndt’s home, warning employees to notify a manager immediately if anyone picks up a photo order in Berndt’s name.
Our calls to CVS’s corporate office for comment were not immediately returned.